What Is Diabetes?
As of 2017, more than 100 million U.S. adults were living with some form of diabetes or pre-diabetes, an incurable disease in which your body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels, due to either being unable to produce insulin (Type I), or an inability to regulate/efficiently use the insulin you are creating (Type II).
There are more types of diabetes, gestational or monogenic diabetes, but the most common types are I and II.
Glucose, an essential molecular aspect of sugar, is what our bodies use as fuel or energy. Cells need glucose in order to maintain homeostasis. Excess carbohydrates get converted and stored in our cells as glucose, because of its function as the most basic unit of energy.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that regulates the amount of sugar, or glucose, in your bloodstream. Insulin stimulates the cells in your body, essentially commanding them to absorb glucose molecules to energize themselves.
Blood sugar levels generally rise after a meal, and fall during exercise or sleep; during these times, the amount of insulin in your bloodstream mimics the amount of glucose; there will be more insulin in your bloodstream after a meal, and less while you’re working out or sleeping.
Consistently high blood glucose levels can lead to insulin resistance, which almost always guarantees that some form of diabetes will follow.
What occurs on the molecular level here is that your cells become less and less responsive to insulin; your cells absorb less glucose, which leads to unregulated blood sugar levels and diabetes.
Types of Diabetes
The two most common types of diabetes, like I already mentioned, are Type I and Type II.
Type I diabetes involves the pancreas simply not releasing insulin. This type of diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that often affects those below the age of 40, and can sometimes take effect after a viral infection.
Type II diabetes, meanwhile, involves the aforementioned insulin resistance, or some version of irregular or inefficient secretion and use of insulin, and is often triggered by lifestyle choices.
Gestational diabetes affects some pregnant women, and involves heightened glucose levels during pregnancy that exceed the amount of insulin production, but will disappear after birth.
Neonatal diabetes affects infants and is caused by a mutation of a gene. It is incredibly rare.
Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is also caused by a gene mutation and is also highly rare.
Health Hazards Caused by Diabetes
Diabetes might be incurable, but it is treatable. Living with untreated diabetes can become life-threatening, which makes consulting a doctor about any abnormalities of paramount importance.
For those living with Type I diabetes, hyperglycemia is a common result and can occur within just a few days; without insulin, the cells won’t absorb the glucose, so it simply floats, in ever-increasing amounts, in your bloodstream.
Without insulin, your kidneys will attempt to remove the excess glucose in your bloodstream, which can lead to frequent urination, dehydration, and thirst.
Simultaneously, your cells are not getting enough energy to function, so your body begins breaking down fat-stores and, depending on the severity, protein strands, to utilize as energy, which leads to toxic levels of acid in the blood, a life-threatening condition known as ketoacidosis.
Hypoglycemia is another risk, and involves blood sugar levels dropping to dangerously low levels. This can sometimes result in a coma.
Untreated Type I diabetes can result, if not in death, in nerve and blood vessel damage, as well as possible blindness and kidney failure, while also increasing your risk of infection.
Type II diabetes, due to its more gradual development, is more likely to go undetected and untreated; it can result in artery and nerve damage, increasing your likelihood of strokes, heart failure, and impotence.
Diabetes is a scary disease to have, but modern medical technology has created treatments that work. The only problem is knowing when to seek treatment.
If you have a family history of diabetes, or are experiencing any of the known symptoms (frequent urination, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, weight loss or gain, slow-healing wounds, nausea, or excessive hunger or thirst) it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor (they know what they’re doing).
Just pay attention to yourself and your body, and there’s really no need to worry.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.